Tampa Bay’s first recovery school nears one year

NEW PORT RICHEY, Florida. Victory High School, which leaders say is the first recovery high school in Tampa Bay, marked one year since its grand opening this month. Classes started last April.

What do you want to know

  • Victory High School has celebrated a year since its inauguration on January 4
  • April will mark one year since the start of classes
  • Victory management says it’s the first recovery school in Tampa Bay
  • The school has welcomed eight students since opening its doors

“It’s been very challenging but at the same time very rewarding,” said Tina Miller, founder and executive director of Florida Recovery Schools in Tampa Bay. “I said if I had one student signed up I would open my doors, and I got two.”

Miller said Victory has served a total of eight students since classes began, five of whom are currently enrolled (three in-person and two virtually).

“Our students have concurrent disorders, like depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance use disorders. A lot of them have learning disabilities. So it’s a lot for us to helping them – providing mental health services and addictions counselling, recovery It’s a lot to be able to give them, but it’s so worth it,” Miller said.

The school’s offerings include weekly sessions at Inspire Equine Therapy in Clearwater. A recent session began with students grooming Rascal, a type of horse known as the Norwegian Fjord. Next, the teenagers moved to the Inspire arena.

“Our goals for our program for teens with life challenges are to work on personal goals and development. So this can range from learning cooperation skills to communication skills to leadership, going through the goals they’re working on,” said Melissa Yarbrough, Inspire’s founder and executive director. “We can use that, through the partnership with the horse, we can work on them so they can transfer it into their daily lives.”

Victory student James Guerin, 15, from Clearwater, said equine therapy helped him hone his communication skills. He describes his three months at school as “fantastic”.

“In public school, in private school, in every school I’ve been to, I’ve been kind of labeled as ‘the bad kid,’ you know, ‘the troubled kid,'” James said. “I showed up here, and there were no labels. It’s just pure support.”

Ahead of Victory, James said he was recently released from a residential treatment program after battling drug addiction.

“I mostly struggled with nicotine, marijuana and opioids, oxycodone. I mixed them with marijuana or LSD and stuff like that,” James said.

When asked if Victory has helped him in his recovery, James replied, “Yes, a lot. The support is amazing.”

Next year, Miller said she would like to see Victory’s reach expand to help up to 25 more students.

“Our big dream is to have a recovery high school in every county in Florida because that’s what we need. Our students, they have hope. They belong,” Miller said.

Mller said Victory is a private, nonprofit school and donations keep its doors open. Yarbrough said the partnership between Inspire and Victory is made possible by a grant from the GTE Foundation, and that will eventually run out. To learn more about how you can support Victory High School and its programming, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling with a substance use disorder, click here to learn more about how you can connect to resources.

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